New student union shouldn’t be a band-aid solution
The recent announcement of the Student Federation of the University Ottawa’s (SFUO) termination has been built up to for some time. Bullying, mismanagement, and corruption have been staples of the organization for years. The time for a new student union has come. But this is also a time where we, as a student body, need to be careful and calculated. Before charging headstrong into the domain of student unions again, students who seek to represent the student body need to prove that they’ve learned from the mistakes of past executives.
The first thing we should do is try to figure out what went wrong with the SFUO. Not just by listing off all of the wrongdoings and scandals, but diving into the internal processes which enabled these blatant problems to come up again and again. There are lessons to be learned here, and as students, we should really take the time to process them before we end up voting for people who might end up doing the exact same things a second time, under a new name.
Moreover, it’s extremely vital that we get it right this time. If the SFUO accomplished anything, it was destroying faith in student unions. The administration as well as the U of O students are completely in their right to be skeptical of any potential SFUO 2.0. In that sense, a new student union would have to be very explicit about what went wrong with the SFUO and what they in turn will do better.
One of the things that contributed to the corruption and general distrust the student body had of their union was the arms length approach of the SFUO. The SFUO did very little to actually engage with the students as an organization. They funded clubs and put on club week events and so on, but the organization itself was always very distant. For many students, their only first hand experience with the club would have been at the needlessly divisive GAs that the SFUO loved to hold from time to time. In order to avoid the distance and lack of accountability that incompetent managing flourishes in, a new union would have to make itself an extremely prevalent organization that students are able to become invested in. Students would need to lead this charge towards accountability and accessibility, and demand it from this new union, and that can only be done with understanding of the previous distance.
To genuinely understand the factors, and come up with new strategies takes time. The student body still hasn’t seen the entire disaster that still is the SFUO unfold yet, and there are undoubtedly more lessons to be learned, more scandals that may come to light. A thorough understanding of the recurring problems and what to do about them needs to be at the forefront of any credible student union that hopes to be legitimate in the eyes of the student population.
Plus, the stakes are higher with a second union. If the same problems that plagued the SFUO introduce themselves to a new union, the fallout would be a disaster. It would prove that a change in personnel doesn’t solve anything, and it would raise serious doubts about the need for a student union in the first place. If all they do is cause problems, then why bother with them? Before we create a new union, there has to be some sort of systemic change that prohibits the same chronic issues from running rampant again, and an accountability agenda isn’t it.